Tony’s Talk with demonstration at the Drama NSW conference 2016
okay thank you very much for your time here, I would like to extend the Pecha Kucha presentation by actually having our actors jump off the page and come up on stage so I got some students here from Kings and Nagle college to do a demonstration, but stay there, don’t don’t jump up just yet.
I’ve got some notes hopefully I can get through the Pecha Kucha in time with my demonstrations of my workshops that we’ve been running here, just as a note to the slides are you will be seeing slowly turning over here are actually from QUT students about four years ago we did a Commedia project so you’ll see shots from that production. I’d like to start by saying there is a misconception the commedia is a Masked improvised theatre and it’s dated back to the 16th century, well it is dated back to the 16th century that’s for sure but I think that it’s improvised theatre is mistaken it is highly rehearsed well practiced ….. scenarios comic routines that have been tried-and-true and then only then once these skits and scenarios played do the actors improvise like handling a heckler
I’d like to make that my presentation here because I think that we’ve been teaching it wrong especially with sort of you know, assessment tasks, saying okay quick go and pull a scenario out of a hat and go and improvise it I would find it hard with my actors that have been working on on it years that it would be a difficult task to pull off.
What I’d like to do is talk about how you can build a structure and then improvise from it and today you’ve been witnessing the performance of the Punchinella x three so we made them, three Zannis, performing a wondering Lassi. So what we did was, we built a movement palette which we rehearsed and I’d like to take you very quickly through because of the time limit of the Pecha Kucha through the class that I went with our students here the last Sunday at the college here, so when I like them up on stage now ladies come on up Maybe you could move the chairs
Did you like their performance, by the way, at lunch time. Yes, another round of applause!
Yes, you guys can push the chairs back a little bit, give yourself some move space on stage. John put them out there, very nice…. But we’ve just moved them all.
The first thing is that Commedia is; very, Light, Balanced and in Control.
This is what I was trying to have this idea by teaching them some of the movement strategies that we had planned for the improvisation.
We used an exercise, called ‘Schooling’. to create an ensemble of, even only with, three members, an ensemble of three. So, you guys want to drop the masks up on the chairs there. and can you get into your groups of three. That you’re so familiar with now. Yes, their finding their spots.
Now you might be familiar with this activity in drama class. ‘Schooling’, so they are going to find their way around the room, using ‘Schooling’ movement technique. Can you demonstrate that please for everybody So what they are doing here, is that they are copying who ever is in front, so the improvisation can go anywhere, so if they turn around, it’s not just the one person leading, its actually just following who ever happens to be in front. This allows, the students to be able to go with what ever is happening or in front of their eyes at the time. Ok, thank you, I think they got that,
Can you demonstrate ‘Swarming’. ‘Swarming’ is a little bit different, it undoes the rigid idea of having a triangle all the time. So, swarming around the space. You’ll see that they’re actually using some of the techniques of the Commedia traditional moves. Which is, the Zanni walk, the Zanni creeping maybe even running, OK, then the next step we did We added, the traditional movements, yes, ah, no, ah, We also did ‘Auto Contact’ So I was looking for, cues from your the wandering audience, so they need things to feed off when they are improvising in front of a crowd, like wondering here at lunch time. So can we have Isaac Can you, everyone follow Isaac please. we call, this is just mimicking one person, so that they are looking for idiosyncrasies that the person being chosen at the moment, their just copying. Aswitha Aswitha remember, try and get rid of them. Why are you following me? Why are you following me? Go away! Go away! Ok, thank you, that’s a good demonstration. and now we added the traditional moves, so that they were grounded in the Commedia.
Can you line up, maybe two lines across the stage here and show them some of the stance. remember, 70% of the weight on one leg 30% on the other leg, and jump from one leg to the other now introduce some hand gestures because the Italians they talk with hands and so thats where we get the get gestural theatre style that comes from Commedia Ok, right turn, So this is all very stylised, very cartoon, Commedia is like large cartoons. Can you face the front again and do Left turn.
Now Commedia, lets do the run, slow run, the, just the ,’I’m going to work hard’ going to make a delivery. Ok, stop, don’t want to wear them out. and now walking backwards, as a zanni. don’t forget to ‘Clock’ the audience. ‘Clocking’ the audience is very important with mask work, well actually, with any type of clowning. it acknowledges the, your bringing the audience into what your character might be thinking and doing ok, don’t walk off the edge of the stage, thank you.
I’m going to put all this together, because I’m running out of time. We did use other, few other little tricks. which I might be able to do and they get on their masks please. Now because we didn’t have dressing rooms mirrors and stuff to get ready we used a little trick, in that they would use each other as a reflection of themselves they would start by getting into a bunch facing inwards, they would find the spirit of the mask, I did this last weekend.
We took them through, an extensive process of finding the spirit of the mask, finding a voice, looking into the eyes of the mask. as though they are not you any more. ok, their not doing triangles their doing the large group. Ah, good their finding their voice and their using each other as mirrors. Now you can turn around and take your journey as the threes, if you can find your partner’s again.
That’s it. if they got stuck by engaging in someone with conversation which sometimes happens so someone starts talking to a wondering character performing, then I said to them, well don’t take responsibility of having to talk back to them, your Zanni’s! for example I might say…. “Hi, how are you, you guys are great. Zanni, says “Hi” to his others in his group. They’re using a technique called ‘Pass the buck’. Hay, Hay, excuse me.. Where you from? you got a phone number, you got an agent? Zanni, says “Agent” to his others in his group. you see I don’t get any sense out of them and that’s what we want, we want the audience to be, to say “You guys are crazy”, Zanni, says “Crazy” to his others in his group.
So you see how that technique works never take responsibility to make sense that’s the point here. we also went through, finding the game like the handshaking games always a fun one. So everyone can demonstrate the hand shaking game quickly. it’s like these characters don’t know the ways of our world and anything you do or offer as an audience member they take as exploring it as though they don’t know what it means this makes it very good clowning, very good fun Ok, thank you very much… Zanni’s You can turn around and take off your masks. So you can see it is improvised, but it is layered on a structure. once the students know what their structure is they have a ‘common language’ which then they can build on and improvise from. I think that this makes for good Commedia.
Now these have just started, I believe that if they went off and did performances at different gigs, they would build a rapport of activities that the three of them would become a very healthy ensemble. Ok, thank you very much. Guys can you take a seat again back in the audience. How much time do I have left? 30 seconds! Oh no! Maybe very quickly, I wont get them up to demonstrate.
Il Doctore, was the other character that we spoke on and I mean that I trained them. I took them through it was a little game I found to find the nonsensical talk that the Doctore is famous for a ‘Sproloquio’ that’s what the Doctore does and so how do you teach that, how can you teach someone to talk nonsense and be good at it. unless your Robin Williams of course, you know, then it comes naturally So I found this little trick, and, Um, I found it whilst driving in the car once my kids were playing with me when they were younger. they were playing the ‘But Why’ game. Now, have you ever had that happen to you? But why, Dad, But Why and you keep on explaining and over explaining This is what the Doctore does, So…….. if you were to try this exercise when you are teaching Commedia, is get the students to first work in pairs, and say, one of them says ‘But Why’ to everything that the other answers. and then elaborate on it so, ‘But Why’ and I often find the last word in the sentence like…. “the world is round” and the kid says ‘But Why’, “Well rounded is sort of like the Sun” and the ball and the Moon”. “But Why” “Well the moon is sort of like…. so you jump from one idea using just the last word that you said in your sentence this finds this illogical progression through talking to the audience and this is where you find the nonsense of a jargon talking professor called Il Doctore’.
I hope that’s a little insight into teaching the Doctor.